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Consumer Engagement: Breaking the Perfect Measurement Myth

  |  October 24, 2005   |  Comments

The Perfect Measurement Myth says Internet activity is countable. But do we count the right things?

Recently I was visiting a client and discussing our media consumption research numbers. She was relatively unsurprised the data show people are still watching a fairly large amount of TV. She talked about a hypothetical family who has the TV on in the morning when they're getting ready for work and school.

But that ain't "watching."

The TV is certainly on, but it's only a single element in a flurry of activity. If you picture that scene, you can imagine the family members giving their attention to the TV only when interesting content appears. When the commercial break comes, they move their day along instead.

Imagine, though, the data from that experience. The TV's on for two hours, but there's no objective way to know only 20 minutes of actual consumption occurred, spread across a four-member family.

Measurement Challenges

Online, we have an entirely different set of measurement problems. Internet marketers have a lot of data about what servers did, but how do you turn data into information that makes sense to a marketer? The Perfect Measurement Myth says Internet activity is countable. But every online marketer has, at some point, realized shoehorning ad accountability into click-through data is near impossible. When CTRs (define) drop, they suddenly don't seem to represent the total value created by an ad being served.

SEM (define) is experiencing a similar evolution. The good news is CTRs remain stable and robust, but there's a tacit understanding that there's more value when a search ad is served. Tapping that value is critical to growing the search business beyond just the current crop of big spenders.

We must change the way we count, and ultimately value, consumer contact points. We must look beyond individual channels and campaigns to individuals themselves. To do this, marketers must shift away from measuring the analytics they're used to toward measuring the level of engagement, per consumer, they achieve.

Thinking About Engagement

The term "engagement" generates a lot of buzz in the ad community. It's a natural evolution away from such measures as "awareness" and "purchase intent." It's an attempt to understand the degree to which a particular brand's story is built in a consumer's mind. Ultimately, it matches up with what we know about consumers and how they make decisions.

Consider the family mentioned above. On the morning show, Mom catches an interview with the star of a new film. Later, she sees an ad for the movie and notes it's opening this weekend. A few hours later, she reads a blog post that complains the movie is too violent for kids and recommends another film. At that point, Mom may do a search on one or both movies, potentially clicking on a review or show times.

There's a clear, steady engagement path in this model. At each step, the consumer is moving from awareness to action. Several media pieces play key roles. But if we measure those elements in isolation, we won't understand the interlocking nature of the communication; those both within and outside of the marketer's control. That's what makes any single element successful or not.

It's critical to also examine how each element generated value in the engagement chain. In this scenario, the role the PR team played in getting the star on the show may be downplayed in favor of the team that placed the search ad, because that search ad captured the click. But the consumer searches with an already established engagement level. The value must be spread among all these elements, if only to understand how much to pay for each placement.

Engagement Is Difficult

Measuring engagement isn't easy. It requires significantly integrating multiple data sources, as well as relying on consistency on the consumer end: they'll log in; they won't delete cookies; one computer will be used by only one person.

You can begin measuring engagement simply by thinking about each individual connection as part of an interlocking chain. Incremental steps can also be taken, such as correlating SEM data with site performance data. (Are certain keywords leading consumers to spend more time on your site?) Use blog search engines or buzz services to monitor discussions about your product and its relation to other products.

The goal of marketing measurement is to capture what the community does with and thinks about your products, not how well campaign mechanics perform. Shifting an organization away from this traditional mindset is difficult, partially because individuals want to see their work succeed. But engagement can become a corporate goal, or at least a marketing department goal: a single point everyone focuses on and contributes their work and expertise toward.

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Gary Stein

Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.

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